Several years ago, as I planned a cross-country roadtrip with my niece, she said: “We have to swing by Graceland to see The King.” I had to tell her, “Don’t look to Graceland, if you seek the King”. On the trip, we drove right by the boyhood home of the REAL King as we headed into the Smoky Mountains. We didn’t plan a stop. There was no need to. Because the King isn’t in Tennessee anymore. Oh, Tennessee claims him. They’ve even preserved his boyhood cabin. But The King of the Wild Frontier, at least the cinematic and televised version of him, until today, was living in California, making wine, building luxury inns and making himself a mint.
I’m talking about none other than Fess Parker — television’s first superstar and the man who sold millions of coonskin caps. I was actually shocked to learn that the Davy Crockett phenomenon started years before I was born when Disney first aired the four part TV show, The Legend of Davy Crockett. Believe me, the fad was still going strong a decade later when I distinctly remember hitting my younger brother over the head with my Davy Crockett Flintlock Rifle. Caps and replicas of “Old Betsy” were the least of it. At one point, everything that could be stamped with “Davy Crockett” was. (To get a handle on the magnitude of the phenomenon, see this interview with Fess Parker. And remember, when the TV show aired, four separate versions of the theme song hit the Billboard Top Ten!)
In the ultimate example of following your market, Fess Parker moved on to making wine. And his low-priced Rhone style wine even has his face on it. It’s the ultimate Baby Boomer gift. You had the cap. Your parents bought you the lunchbox. Now get the wine.
Not that Fess Parker was a dilettante. His wines are winning awards and getting great notices, even from that ultimate wine arbiter, Robert Parker (who is not related, but probably secretly wishes he was cool enough to be!) Fess Parker’s son, Eli, the chief winemaker, was named 2006’s Andre Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. It should be noted that, in this age of fallen heroes, Fess Parker never did anything to tarnish his hero image, staying happily married to the same woman for over 50 years and producing a close and loving family that included eleven grandchildren and one great-grandchild who, according to CNN, spent as much of Fess’s last days with him as they could.
Now I’m too late to actually meet Fess Parker, who was said to pay frequent visits to his winery and was known to be gracious to his aging fans. But I’m going to go anyway. I’ll be wearing my coonskin cap. And I may call my new gun “Old Fess” in his honor.
Got fond memories of Fess Parker? Then as Jimmy Buffet says: “Jump right up and show your age.” Sing along with me. You know you know the words!
“Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee
Greenest state in the Land of the Free
Lived in the woods so’s he knowed every tree
Kilt him a b’ar when he was only three.
Da-a-a-avy, Davy Crockett
King of the Wild Frontier”
Davy Crockett Trivia: When the real Davy Crockett announced to his fellow Congressmen that he was resigning to try his luck out West, he said: “You may go to Hell. I will go to Texas.” Now THAT’S an American Hero.